I propose that there are three categories of atheists:
- Natural Atheists: Those brought up by atheist parents who never experienced the conflict between religion and rationality.
- Apathetic Atheists: Those whose faith was not particularly strong and who, without a compelling drive to believe or not believe, defaulted to atheism – becoming an atheist involved very little internal debate and conflict.
- Dissonant Atheists: Those who grew up with belief but who were overwhelmingly torn up over the incompatibility between faith and rationality. These people sought one thing – to rid themselves of the terrible cognitive dissonance cat #1 and #2 atheists are spared from.
I’m here to talk about category #3 atheists because, well, I fall in that grouping.
Three Things You Must Know About Category #3 Atheists
- We Sometimes Wish Were Wrong (Even Though We Know We Are Not): I think one of the biggest mistakes theists make is to assume an atheist’s decision to ditch god was arrived at without deeply studying the issue. They honestly believe that all they have to do is raise a little awareness and, viola, they will have an easy conversion. This is not the case for cat #3 atheists. For us, becoming an atheist was the biggest decision of our lives. After all, becoming an atheist, not only means (for 99.9999% of us) getting rid of god, it also means abandoning the idea of immortality (ourselves and our loved ones) and that makes it a very, very big decision. Many of us go through a very real grieving process over all of this. With all this on the line, do you really think we’d only put a half-assed effort into our decision?
- We’ve Heard It All Before: I’m amazed how often – in my short, six months as an atheist – I’ve been challenged by someone who thinks they have the ultimate argument for religion. Trust me, you have nothing new to offer us on this discussion. Why am I so cocky (clue: see #1 above)? We’ve heard all your objections and questions before – probably many times before. Where have we heard them? We heard them inside our own heads during our de-conversion process. We’ve run the scenarios and questions many, many times – over and over – in our minds and, eventually, logic won out over these objections and we accepted reality. Most cat #3 atheists will have read multiple books on both sides of the argument, spend hundreds of hours on the web, and viewed countless Youtube debates (frankly, once you’ve seen Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris demolish the likes of Dinesh D’Souza a few times, our own debates seem …rather lame). What you need to know is that by the time you come into the picture, your objections are not at all new to us.
- You are Projecting: What we’ve come to realize about your questions and objections (e.g. “What’s the purpose of life without God?” and “Why be moral?”) is that you’re projecting your thoughts, insecurities and fears onto us. Sure, we can answer your questions but, we know in doing so that our worldview troubles you, and that you ask those questions to help you imagine what it might be like to be an atheist. My advice is to keep on asking these good questions, but to also make sure you ask them of yourself. I think you’ll find that you can imagine there’s no heaven. You may even find that it’s easy if you try.
To be blunt, what all this means is that you have very little hope of converting a cat #3 atheist to your religion (you probably won’t have much luck with a cat #1 either). Seriously, your best chance probably lies in converting cat #2 atheists so you might want to start by asking a few questions before wasting time on the wrong category.
Now you have a better understanding of us. You also have a more specific target conversion market.